Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Why Wasn’t This Just A Batman Movie?

After the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, fans of comic books and films alike had the opportunity to unite against what they perceived as a mutual enemy; the former against the perceived bastardization of a classic superhero into a flat dullard lacking in any substance or remorse for careless destruction, and the latter against an incredibly dull and overwrought script with sub-par performances and an approach to cinematography that confuses a washed out grayish-blue tint with complexity in direction and creative ingenuity. In 2016, Snyder seems to have learned nothing from his previous failure, and actually appears to have regressed further into bad filmmaking habits. Rather than simply being an unenjoyable movie like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film that fails not only on a production and writing level, but on a moral level as well. But before we get into my qualms, let’s talk about the things the movie does right. I promise it won’t take long.

Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman was the subject of heated debate online in the weeks following the studio’s announcement that he had been chosen for the role, and he ended up being the best part of the entire movie. A running theme with my praise for this movie is that most of it is directly Batman-related, and this is no coincidence; without wishing to spoil the plot, Affleck plays a Bruce Wayne that has been immersed in his role as a vigilante for most of his life, and has almost completely lost the sense of empathy that inspires him to avoid killing criminals in other interpretations of the character. The action scenes involving Batman are spot on, with excellent direction and fight choreography that stands in stark contrast to the overall quality of the rest of the film. Fortunately for Affleck, the studio chose to cast Jeremy Irons as the Caped Crusader’s dour partner in crime, a casting choice that was nothing short of genius. Michael Caine was always going to be a tough Alfred to follow, but Irons takes on the role with the sort of natural dignity and politesse required of a proper British manservant.

Depressingly, even the superb casting of Batman and Alfred is little help to salvage the rest of the movie. The plot is, to put it bluntly, an absolute mess. Character motivations are one of the most important things to nail down when plotting out a story, and one of the more infuriating parts of the film is that many of the characters do not seem to have a motivation at all, or if they do it is likely illogical or inconsistent. Lex Luthor, one of the most highly vaunted villains in the DC pantheon, could not have been executed more poorly. According to my more comics-savvy friends, one of Luthor’s strongest points as a character is his motivation; he is fiercely defensive of humanity’s ability to be the master of its own destiny, and he sees Superman, a godlike alien who operates outside of human morality, as a threat to that independence. This motivation is either poorly-stated or not in the movie at all, because I found wondering the entire time why Luthor was doing any of the things he did. Luthor was also the victim of a grievous miscasting that I felt crippled the movie, especially given how crucial having a good villain is to the success of a superhero movie; Jesse Eisenberg is simply not a good choice to play this character, and it has nothing to do with his not looking the part. The haircut doesn’t make the man, and Luthor not having a shaved head does nothing to diminish the character; what does diminish the character is the fact that Eisenberg, or more likely Snyder, seemed to think it was a good idea to portray Lex Luthor as a twitchy, motor-mouthed rip-off of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, but without the charm or charisma of either.

You may be wondering why I’ve barely mentioned the Man of Steel himself up to this point – perfectly reasonable, given the film’s title – and that’s because I barely have anything to say about him. Henry Cavill, who I’m sure is a talented actor, is so lifeless and stale in this movie that he seems to act like a charisma-consuming black hole to the other actors he shares the screen with. Add in the contrived inclusion of Amy Adams’s Lois Lane and you have a perfectly average (but in no way engaging) love story between two actors that appear to be doing their best mannequin impressions for the duration of the arduous 150-minute run time.

The only interesting thing that Superman does in the film is fight Batman, and it’s awesome. If your goal in seeing this movie is to see the big showdown between the two titular heroes, you will absolutely get your money’s worth – surprisingly, the inclusion of universal plothole-filler known as kryptonite does nothing to take away from the gravitas of the moment. That said, I advise leaving the theater immediately after it concludes, because everything after that is a complete waste of your time. There is another fight at the end, and just in case you haven’t watched the trailers I won’t spoil who it is, but I will say that the scene is basically a culmination of every bad habit Zack Snyder has as a director of action films; there’s an abundance of careless, wanton destruction that runs completely counter to Superman’s character and somehow has no sense of weight or consequence whatsoever, and in post-production Snyder felt the irresistible urge to have the action slow to a crawl every time a character gets ready to throw their next blow, 300-style, all while obnoxious EDM blares in the background like they’re fighting the giant monster at Electric Forest. Is this just the way action scenes are directed now? I really hope not, because it’s the worst. To make matters worse, Batman, the most interesting part of the movie, is relegated to the sidelines while Superman and Wonder Woman sort things out.

Did I forget to mention that Wonder Woman is in the movie? That makes sense, because so did the movie.

While this is an unbelievably overblown and cynical approach to a superhero mythos that will probably go down as one of the worse misfires in what is shaping up to be a series made entirely of misfires, I recommend seeing the film if only because it succeeded in making me excited for a Ben Affleck Batman movie. Aside from that one glimmer of hope, Dawn of Justice is poorly written, tedious, and riddled with completely pointless scenes that are immediately noticeable to a viewing audience but somehow weren’t noticed, or perhaps cared about, by a man who now has seven directing credits to his name. If nothing else I suppose you can walk away from the movie comforted by the knowledge that if this script can get approved and filmed, you can do anything.

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